Flight festival ‘shot down in secret, with no explanation’

The Ulster Aviation Society (UAS) has hit out at the decision to cancel Newcastle’s Festival of Flight yet again.

The society, a major supporter of the event, said it was “disappointed and dismayed”.

Chairman Ray Burrows said the UAS had not been consulted about the decision.

He added it was “astonishing” that the event had been “shot down in secret, with no reasonable explanation”.

The show last went ahead in 2019, when the Red Arrows and AeroSuperBatics Wingwalkers put on an exhilarating display.

The festival was cancelled in 2018 because of bad weather, and in 2020 and last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Mourne Observer reported that during a meeting of Newry Mourne and Down District Council’s enterprise, regeneration and tourism committee, members agreed a relaunched tourism programme for 2022/23 in closed session that did not include the crowd-pulling show.

Sinn Fein councillor Willie Clarke said there was an opportunity to stage a new event in the town because “it will not be possible to host the festival this year”. “Although this will be disappointing to regular visitors to the air show, an opportunity exists to host a new large-scale festival in Newcastle this summer which incorporates and builds on the most popular elements of the festival,” he added.

“[These include] a showcase of the outstanding food and drink of the region, alongside incorporating the arts, culture and music, creating opportunities to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit and pioneering innovation of the district.”

Councillor Clarke told colleagues he had requested a meeting with council officers to “explore different themes for the festival, including improving the narrative of Saint Donard”.

He said: “On the summit of Slieve Donard are the remains of two prehistoric burial cairns, one of which is the remains of the highest known passage tomb in Ireland.

“In Irish mythology, the mountain was associated with, and named after, the mythical figures Boirche and Slangha.

“It was later associated with, and named after, Saint Donard, who was said to have made the summit his hermitage, and this heritage can be linked with the increase in walking.”

Mr Clarke also suggested exploring the rich maritime history of the area and the possibility of a regional competition.

UAS chairman Mr Burrows said these were “all excellent suggestions, but as elements in addition to, or within, the Festival of Flight, surely not as a replacement for it”.

“That said, we would be pleased indeed to meet with the council or the mayor to discuss the matter,” he added.

“We want to help Newcastle demonstrate in a powerful, popular way how important our aviation future and heritage are to Northern Ireland.

“That’s exactly what did in recent years, before Covid.

“We [the UAS] had probably the most popular exhibition within the ground-based event.

“Thousands of parents have brought their children for photographs in our Spitfire and our Alouette helicopter, at no charge.

“Unless this council decision is reversed, or at least re-assessed, I expect there will be tremendous disappointment from the public.”

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council did not respond to a request for a comment.

Story via Belfast Telegraph & Amy Cochrane

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